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Wine Retailers Ask Supreme Court To Overturn Ban on Wine Shipments

The National Association of Wine Retailers Submits Amicus Brief in Eighth Circuit Wine Shipping Case Implicating the Twenty-First Amendment and Dormant Commerce Clause

(Washington, DC)—The National Association of Wine Retailers (NAWR) has submitted an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court of the United States to grant Certiorari to Sarasota Wine Market v Schmitt, a retailer wine shipping case brought to challenge Missouri’s discriminatory ban on consumers in that state receiving wine shipments from out-of-state retailers.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a lower court ruling that dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the discriminatory Missouri ban on shipments from out-of-state wine retailers constitutes an “essential element” of the “three-tier system” and is therefore not subject to judicial scrutiny under the Commerce Clause.

In urging the Supreme Court to grant Certiorari to the Sarasota Wine Market case, NAWR argues that the Eighth Circuit badly misunderstands the nature of the three-tier system and what constitutes its “essential elements”, as well as misstating the relationship between consumers’ rights and retailers. The amicus brief also reveals that the Eighth Circuit failed to undertake the well-established, Supreme Court-endorsed analysis that requires the Court to evaluate state-produced, concrete evidence showing that its discriminatory law is necessary to advance the state’s interest in protecting the health and safety of its citizens and that there is no other non-discriminatory alternative to the discriminatory law.

“After 15 years of courts, wholesalers, alcohol regulators, lawmakers and other opponents of consumer access to wine arguing that the non-discrimination principle embedded in the 2005 Granholm v Heald Supreme Court decision did not apply to the retail tier, the Supreme Court ruled in 2019 (Tennessee Wine v Thomas) that the non-discrimination principle does in fact apply to retailers,” notes Tom Wark, executive director of NAWR. “Wine retailers are urging the Supreme Court to take this important case so as not to let another decade and a half pass before reiterating that purely discriminatory bans on wine retailer interstate shipping under the guise of completely unsubstantiated health and safety concerns are unconstitutional and may not stand.”

With the substantial increase in the number and variety of wine products that have come into the U.S. market over the past two decades and with the recent embrace of Internet wine sales in the wake of the COVID pandemic, consumers demand access to the wines they want in a safe and efficient manner.

The ban on consumers receiving wine shipments from out-of-state wine retailers that exist not only in Missouri but also in 33 other states severely restricts consumer access to wines. Moreover, when a state bans wine shipments from out-of-state retailers it suppresses competition and means that consumers in those states only have access to the usually very small selection of imported wines that the state’s wholesalers provide to retailers. It also means that the vast majority of rare, hard-to-find, collectible and investment-grade wines are almost completely unavailable to consumers in the states that ban shipping.

“The importance of this case for consumers, America’s wine retailers, and the wine importers and American wineries that rely on retailers to sell their wines can’t be understated,” said Wark. “The NAWR is using this Amicus Brief to strongly urge the Supreme Court to take the Sarasota Wine Market case and sweep aside the anti-consumer, unconstitutional and protectionist laws states maintain on behalf of special interests that have no interests in mind, but their own.


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